Meave G. Leakey

Turkana Basin Institute


Election Year: 2013
Primary Section: 15, Geology
Secondary Section: 51, Anthropology
Membership Type: Foreign Associate

Biosketch

Meave Leakey is a research professor in the Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University, Director of Plio-Pleistocene research at the Turkana Basin Institute, Kenya, Explorer-in Residence at the National Geographic Society and co-leader, with her daughter Louise, of the Koobi Fora Research Project (KFRP). She is a paleontologist known for her work in the Turkana Basin, northern Kenya where her field teams have uncovered numerous fossils of human ancestors as well as a diversity of ancient vertebrates. Several of these fossils represent new species of primates including human ancestors. Meave was born in England in 1942, she grew up in southern England and gained her BSc and her doctorate from the University of Wales. She moved to Kenya in 1965 and, after her marriage to Richard Leakey in 1970, became a Kenya citizen in 1973.

Research Interests

Meave's research interests, focus on Cenozoic mammalian evolution, with emphasis on primate and human evolution. Her research activities are both field and lab based. The annual interdisciplinary expeditions of the Koobi Fora Research Project (KFRP), to the Turkana Basin, northern Kenya include geologists, paleontologists, geophysicists, geochemists and paleobotanists. These expeditions survey the badlands for fossil evidence of early human ancestors and the fauna that lived alongside these ancestors. The fossils and the geological context in which they are found provide the means to reconstruct past faunas, habitats and climates. In particular the analyses of stable carbon isotopes have shed considerable light on the paleoenvironments in which our ancestors lived, climate changes through time, and the dietary preferences of different vertebrates species. Over the past 45 years, the KFRP has discovered numerous new vertebrate species. Of particular importance are the spectacular fossil hominin discoveries, which have enhanced the understanding of our own evolutionary past prior to the emergence of Homo sapiens. Together with colleagues, Meave has described new species of early apes, monkeys and human ancestors, including Australopithecus anamensis, the earliest known australopithecine, and Kenyanthropus platyops, which provides evidence of diversity in the human fossil record 3.5 million years ago.

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